Newsletters are a fantastic way to connect with your digital audience. They are like the magazine of the digital world (Digital magazines are NOT the magazine of the digital world, but that’s another topic altogether). Because we call them newsletters, we treat them like print newsletters: a couple of columns, photos, and a lot of text. We assume that readers will want this because that’s what we have fed them in print-world.
I am throwing down the gauntlet and saying that it is wrong. Here are ten reasons to NOT use images in your email newsletters.
1. They load faster
Nothing slows down quick-hit info packets like slow-to-load content slugs. Worse, if your overworked producer is taking shortcuts and not optimizing the images for email (reducing the resolution, sizing the image properly, etc.) the content slug gets even logier.
2. Most images don’t load automatically
Many email clients are set to NOT automatically load images. This makes a carefully designed email look cruddy and it affords an opportunity for a reader to delete rather than scroll to the bottom and click ‘Load images’ — by the way, long newsletters make this scrolling to the bottom to ‘load images’ even more of a pain in the neck. DELETE.
3. Predictable display across email clients
There are as many ways to receive and view an email as there are people receiving and viewing email. Well, not quite, but there a lot of different ways for people to get email — Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail, Thunderbird, AOL (really), Outlook for Mac, Hotmail, Yahoo!, webmail… If you have any idea how difficult it is to design for the handful of Web browsers out there, square that level of difficulty for the number of email clients out there.
Let me do the math:
(very difficult) x (very difficult) = very difficult^2
very difficult^2 = unpredictable
4. The big kids do it
Wall Street Journal, Stanford Business Review, New York Times, IAB, Ad Age, Nielsen Newswire, Quartz, The Nieman Media Lab… all of these media powerhouse brands send newsletters without images. What do these big kids know that you don’t know? They know about number 5 and 6 on this list:
5. They get more clicks
I have tested images vs. no images at two different companies on a large audience and a huge audience. Both times I got the same result: more opens and more clicks for text-only newsletters. Significantly more at one company. But even if it is not a significant improvement, why would you continue to do something that is basically a waste of time? Do you really NOT have a to-do list a mile long?
6. The ads stand out and get more clicks
Ads make money. Ads that perform well are more valuable than ads that do not perform well. If you’re going to sell ad space, why not make the ads pop, entice your readers to click, and then charge more for the ads? Better performing ads will help you retain fickle advertisers.
7. It is less work
Everyone who has not lost staff and budget over the past seven years, raise your hand. OK, no one raised their hand. I think it is safe to extrapolate from that little survey that most media companies have fewer people, fewer dollars, and MORE deliverables. NOT having to do something is less work than HAVING to do it.
8. Easier to automate from an RSS feed
Let’s build on ‘It is less work’ above. We’ve decided that adding images requires extra work and is not worth it in terms of newsletter performance. So let’s look for some more needless work to eliminate. Why pay someone to cut and paste info from a website into a newsletter when you can automagically pull the info into the newsletter template? I call this ‘knowledge workers doing monkey work’ and it is not a good use of budget.
Certainly there is other work your knowledge workers can be doing. There are as many ways to set up an rss-fed newsletter as there are smart people wanting to set one up. Considering that I have seen some people spend upwards of three hours building and deploying a newsletter, this is considerable savings.
9. Works better on mobile
Mobile is where digital is going. Period. If you are not designing for mobile, you are done. Too many newsletters are unreadable on mobile devices because they have multiple columns (trying to look like print newsletters), tiny fonts (designed for desktops) and images that are improperly sized for mobile screens. If you ignore your mobile audience, you are ceding customers to your competition — the people who design for mobile.
10. All of the above
Sorry, I could only think of nine reasons, and no one has ever heard of a Top-Nine list. But I guess it leaves an opening to ask for comments, eh?